The easiest book in the world to understand.

If I were the creator of the universe, esp. the earth and its inhabitants, and I wanted everybody to know and worship me and follow a very explicit set of rules and guidelines, I might list all my achievements in book form, and I might even include all my rules in that book. Takes a load off my shoulders, right? I wouldn’t have to pop down here every hour and tap somebody on the shoulder and say “Hey, that’s against the rules.” Because if I wanted everybody to follow my rules and I had them all laid out in a nice book and people still didn’t follow them, I would do that. I would intervene. First off, it could serve as a pretty cool reminder that I actually exist. Second, some people just need reminders.

But being that I’m supremely awesome, supremely powerful, and supremely knowledgeable, the rules put forth in my book would be crystal clear. There would be absolutely no way whatsoever for people to misinterpret what I am saying. If I had to use my infinite magical powers to craft the book in such a way so that the words are phrased differently for every person just so they’ll understand exactly what I’m saying, so be it. But two people who have read my book would simply be unable to disagree on the fundamentals within: you would not have one person saying “Clearly if you read it this way, Dave says homosexuals should be put to death,” while another person says “Ah, but if you look at it this way it’s pretty obvious Dave thinks every adult person capable of decision-making, signing a contract, and saying the words ‘I do’ should be offered the right to be married.”

THERE WOULD BE NO MISINTERPRETATIONS. There wouldn’t be sects of people who interpret even two words differently in my book. Because I am awesome-fucking-possum and I actually want these people to obey my rules. They will be clear. I would use my incredible powers to make my rules somehow even more clear than the phrase “Don’t punch people in the neck.” Pretty clear, huh? Someone could misinterpret it. Not if I’m god though.

That is why religion is nonsense. Because the world’s three largest monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are based upon the exact same story, yet all three religions are vastly different from one another and each even have a whole sloppy slew of sects and cults within that disagree with one another. Yours is one interpretation out of thousands, and you learned it from your parents, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, whose interpretation of your religion was probably even vastly different from your own. And yet somehow all those other religions/sects are wrong and yours is right.

My role as the atheist/skeptic is not to say to you “Nope, you’re wrong. They’re wrong. Everybody’s wrong.” Rather, it’s to say “Seriously? Look at the odds. What divine knowledge has been bestowed upon you that makes you right and millions of other people wrong?” So what if it turns out you’ve got the right god? You‘ve probably been following the wrong rules.

Ghosts!

The following is copied directly from a post I made on Facebook, and then my subsequent comments on that post.

I used to believe in ghosts. The belief was originally based on just the possibility of their existence, then “confirmed” by my own eyewitness account.

Then I grew up, thought about it, and determined that my account of seeing and hearing ghosts (in a cemetery, no less!) was brought about by

A) the pre-determination of ghosts’ existence (itself based only on assumption, hearsay, and speculation),

B) heightened senses in a dark, quiet graveyard,

C) an overactive imagination that once convinced me when I was younger that an animated skeleton was stalking me from outside my bedroom window (it also led me to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the effectiveness of a toy I had growing up called a “dream chaser”), and even

D) peer pressure. I was with friends who also saw and heard creepy things that night. However even if those friends maintain that we really did witness ghosts or spirits, I am inclined to think they have not yet come to realize the roles these four factors play in their own belief.

Once these four factors are recognized and even more importantly, accepted, it is not difficult at all to dismiss any other supernatural claims or apparent phenomena.

A friend commented, stating that he feels differently (but refrained from going into any detail), which prompted my response:

I would also add a fifth factor: that sometimes it just feels good to believe in something fantastic or magical, like ghosts and an afterlife. It feels good because it’s comforting, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit that just because something seems or feels wonderful doesn’t mean it’s real.

I’ll use books and movies as an example: I love reading and watching films; I love being lost in the story and imagining all the things that happen within. I love rooting for the good guy and I love when he is vigilant. I love when a story can pull at my emotions and make me happy, sad, or frightened. But when the credits roll, or when I turn the last page, the story’s over. Sometimes I get a huge feeling of relief when a story is over, and sometimes I wish it could go on forever, but every story (ready The Neverending Story joke) comes to an end, and whether or not I’m okay with that — whether or not I’m ready for it to be over — it’s over, and I know it’s not real. But it felt good. Hell, it might even still feel good.

He answered again, this time stating that he believes there are things people can’t see or explain; things that exist beyond the realm of the natural; that there are parallel worlds and dimensions, implying that some things (ghosts?) may be able to exist on multiple planes at once, and saying we should not dismiss the existence of ghosts because they might exist. My final response:

I think it’s totally fine to believe we can’t explain everything (I believe the same, and wouldn’t claim otherwise). But to believe in something based strictly on its possibility is absurd. Leprechauns could exist, but I don’t believe they do. I believe there are very small people in this world, and their stature may even make them somewhat elusive, and some of them may even make it a habit to dress themselves predominantly in green, but I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been proven (or even evinced) to possess magical powers such as a leprechaun’s. Bigfoot could — hell, there’s even video footage of him! — but I believe (based on a general understanding of how the brain can play tricks on somebody) any eyewitness accounts are either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Russell’s Teapot COULD exist; there’s no way to prove it doesn’t, but since there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence FOR its existence, I do not believe it exists.

What are your thoughts?

Dealing with family

Little-known fact: not everybody is entirely tolerant of atheists. Sometimes the intolerance is made even harder when those displaying it are family members. Today I received a private message from a cousin on Facebook. For her privacy I will not repost her message, but for the sake of showing that it’s important for us to stand up for ourselves — even against family — I will repost my response. In my response I refer to specific things she said in her original message, so it should be easy enough to catch the gist of it.

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If I might…

Yeah, I’m very in-your-face about my atheism. This is because Facebook is the only place I have to express my feelings about it. Religious people can be open about their beliefs publicly; whether you like to admit it or not, atheists cannot — not in Texas, at least. This is why I share my feelings on my private Facebook page (my account is set to friends only and has been for some time now).

I do not act like I know everything. Religious people seem confused when it comes to atheism in these regards. On the contrary, I do not feel like I know everything; in fact, I’m not going to presume to know the answer to all life’s difficult questions is “God.” I’ll leave that know-it-all attitude to the religious.

I’m not going to touch the fact that you sincerely believe I’ll “rot in hell” for eternity, because I don’t think you actually believe that. I believe it makes you feel like a better person to say it, but if you actually believed millions of people alive today would spend eternity being tortured, you’d go insane.

Fortunately in this day and age, atheism is on the rise. More people are thinking rationally and logically. Sure, I get emotional about it sometimes but in the end the one and only reason I am not religious is because I cannot — as a rational person — agree that the ideas put forth by religious people make even a shred of sense. I’d like for there to be a Heaven, but it doesn’t make sense. I’d like to think there’s a god out there who intervenes and answers prayers, but it just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, wanting something to exist does not make it exist. And “faith” just doesn’t make sense to me.

You wouldn’t rely on a 200-year-old book for medical advice; why would you rely on a 2,000-year-old book for moral advice?

But all of this will go right over your head. You’ll continue to never doubt anything you were taught to believe in as a child. You’ll continue to feel guilty every time doubt rears its ugly head. You’ll continue to believe things that just don’t make sense. You’ll continue to believe because you’re scared. I’m not scared. I know that we live and we die, and so my outlook is to make the absolute most of my short, short life. You said I believe once we’re dead, that’s it. Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s it for our physical bodies, sure, but what we achieve in our lives resonates in the lives and memories of others long after we’ve died.

With that said, again, atheism is on the rise. More and more teenagers and young adults are shaking off the guilty feeling they get when they’re faced with a difficult question they don’t know the answer to. More and more teenagers and young adults are refusing to accept “God did it” as the penultimate answer. My hope is that your children — as the next generation of thinkers, makers, and dreamers — realize the answers they’ve been spoon-fed since infancy just aren’t cutting it. My hope is that one day they’ll recall the fantastic stories they’ve read in the Bible and say to themselves (or even out loud), “Now that just doesn’t make sense.”

Despite the fact that you might actually believe I’m going to suffer eternally after I die (again, I don’t think you seriously believe that) I hope you have a happy life. I guess that’s where you and I differ: you’re okay believing millions and millions of people will suffer forever while you enjoy an endless paradise, whereas I’m just not that selfish or spiteful. Every human being has the same fate: you live, you die. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to do wonderful things in between and be remembered after. Either way, we all end up in exactly the same place.

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Just for fun, I went through every single thing I’ve done/posted/uploaded on Facebook from July 1st up until the receipt of her message, just to determine exactly how in-your-face I am about my atheism on my personal, private Facebook page. I specifically noted things of a religious nature, political nature, and scientific nature. Everything else is categorized as — let’s just be adults and admit it — “nonsense.” Here are the results out of 106 posts:

Religious in nature: 17, including one scary picture of Jesus and one post where I just happened to mention the word “atheists.”
Scientific in nature: 6
Political in nature: 8
Nonsense: 75

Summary: I am 16% in-your-face with atheism and 71% in-your-face with nonsense.

 

 

Christmas is for everyone, even atheists

The “Christ” in Christmas means about as much to me as does the “Thor” in Thursday, the “Atlas” in the Atlantic Ocean, and the “Vulcan” in vulcanized rubber. Belief in the existence of each of these things’ namesakes is not a requirement if one wishes to use (or celebrate) them. I will continue to celebrate Christmas in my own happy, secular way just as I will continue to appreciate Saturdays without worshiping the Roman god Saturn.

Christmas is, as any atheist is always happy to point out this time of year, a conglomeration of multiple different Pagan, Roman, German, Babylonian, and Nordic traditions. The Bible itself tells every good Christian not to adopt “the way of the heathen” by erecting and decorating a tree with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:2-4); yet I would wager a very large number of Christians adorn Christmas trees with garlands and ornaments every year.

I’m okay with that – you ought to know by now that I don’t care one way or the other how you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia. Heck, you can even go ahead and give it a different name if you want to! Name it after the god your ancestors invented who shares many similar (or same) attributes as the various gods and heroes which were invented before it. I’m just saying, if you really cared about what your god wanted you to do or not do, you wouldn’t be putting all your presents under a tree.

But that’s all beside the point. I’m writing this post to answer a very simple question: Why do [some] atheists celebrate Christmas, and how?

I can’t speak for all atheists, and I know many atheists do not celebrate Christmas, but I can absolutely answer the question(s) for myself.

The why is simple enough: it’s a festivity and I love festivities, whether or not they’re celebrated today for the same reasons they were originally celebrated. Let’s pretend for a moment that the story of the Nativity and Jesus’s birth in a manger on December 25th and the subsequent visit from and gifts presented by the three wise men isn’t blatantly and obviously borrowing from other folklore. Let’s pretend the whole Christmas story is entirely original and true. That being said, who cares?

Oktoberfest was originally the celebration of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen. Did you know that? Do you care? When you celebrate Oktoberfest every year do you raise a glass and toast to the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghasen? You probably don’t. I don’t. But I celebrate it nevertheless because there’s always a fun time to be had.

Let’s face it; Oktoberfest’s origins of a marriage (and a horse race) don’t mean much to anybody other than diehard Bavarian historians, and I’d wager that most people celebrate it because it’s just plain fun. This is why I and an awful lot of non-Christians still celebrate Christmas. We’re not celebrating the birth of the mythological Christian hero Jesus; we’re just having a good time.

Many atheists will say this is hypocritical of those of us who celebrate Christmas. I say, cheekily, to Hell with them! Christmas is, for me, not about the birth of baby Jesus. It is religious in name only, and that’s not enough for me to want to call it something else.

So that’s the simple answer to why, but doesn’t so much answer how other than to say “without Jesus.” So here’s how I celebrate Christmas, and what Christmas means to me:

Christmas is a time for togetherness. It’s a time for sharing, hugging, and family. It’s a time for love. It’s a time to smile and make other people smile. Christmas is about laughter. It’s about making your loved ones happy. It’s about anonymous charity. It’s about drinking and feasting. Christmas is about wearing sweaters, playing games, and watching football. It’s about taking a nap at my parents’ house. It’s about sneaking yet another copy of The Princess Bride into my wife’s stocking and addressing it to her from Santa. It’s about curling up on the couch with my wife and reminiscing with my family about previous Christmases. It’s about coffee and hot chocolate. It’s about staying up late laughing and listening to music and not caring about how early I have to be up for work the next day. It’s about remembering everything that happened over the last year, and it’s about taking photographs that we can share with our children in the future. Christmas is for everyone.

Christmas used to be about Jesus, then it was all about Santa. Growing up it was the other way around for me, but now it’s just about having a wonderful time with my family and it’s a great way to wrap up the year.

Why am I so smug?

According to Christian religious texts (the Bible), the one unforgivable sin is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. In other words, to deny Jesus’s power.

Before we get any further, let me say the following right here and now: if Jesus ever even existed at all (historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era suggest a religious leader of a similar name may have existed) and if he actually did those things Christians typically chalk up as miracles, like killing a fig tree by pouting at it or curing a man of leprosy or raising Lazarus from the dead (no historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era support any of his so-called miracles), then I firmly believe his feats were nothing more than magic tricks which could each be explained in turn using modern science and simple logic.

In other words, if Jesus existed and did those things the Bible says he did, it’s not because he’s the son of any god or because he possesses special powers the rest of us don’t. No, Jesus was a trickster – a master illusionist. I don’t know how David Copperfield or Penn and Teller or even modern day televangelists do what they do, and what they do is certainly fascinating (except the part where gullible people are knowingly scammed out of large amounts of money), but I don’t think these people are actually capable of bending natural laws at their will or literally accomplishing the impossible.

Jesus may have mastered sleight of hand, but he wasn’t anything special.

Oh, and here’s the cherry on the top if that wasn’t enough for you. If there’s one “good guy” in the Christian Bible, it’s the guy who freed humans from their blissful ignorance and granted them the greatest gift of all: knowledge. It’s not the guy who has literally killed millions of people or had millions of people killed in his name. That’s right, friends. I just inferred that in the great contest of who’s done more good versus bad for humanity, Satan beats God.

There. It took me a while, but in the end I’m pretty sure I just committed the one unforgivable sin and thus solidified for myself a future of eternal pain and suffering. Phew.

Now that’s one (or two, I guess) simple little opinion of mine that doesn’t really come up very often in everyday conversation. It’s a personal opinion that I can’t expect many people around me to share, especially in Texas. Despite my opinion regarding Christianity’s Jesus, God, and Satan (none of whom I believe exist simply due to a lack of evidence), which I typically keep to myself outside Internet World, I like to think of myself as a somewhat decent person.

I’m pretty nice to people, even those I don’t know or don’t like (despite my being a nice guy, there are plenty of people I just don’t like). I try to avoid confrontation or conflict, not because I’m afraid of either but because I like people to be happy, sometimes even at the expense of my own happiness. I love to make people laugh. I’m a pretty charitable guy. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but who hasn’t? Fortunately I can say I’ve learned from my mistakes and if I haven’t yet, I aim to make up for them. I enjoy reading books and I like to learn as much as I can, sometimes about random things “just because.” I’m educated, for the most part. No, I don’t have a college degree but I’ve still got plenty of time and I’m working on getting my first degree. I love my wife and she loves me. I think the most severe law I’ve ever broken is driving too fast on the highway, and now I’m very careful about driving at a reasonable speed. I don’t judge people for something they can’t control, whether it’s their gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. I abide by the golden rule: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to yourself. I’m a utilitarian: the outcome which is best for the most people is the most ideal outcome. Do the most good while causing the least harm.

I do all this not because I believe I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, or even out of fear of being punished in the afterlife, but because the evolution of society and ethos tells me the best society is a cohesive one, in which people are happy and can work together to achieve a common goal, whatever that goal may be. Sometimes the goal is just more happiness.

Despite this; despite my contributions, a Christian will tell me it’s what I generally keep to myself which matters. The Christian Bible basically says that because I’m humble enough to admit that sometimes “I don’t know” really is the most rational answer, a child rapist can repent on his deathbed and will have a greater chance at getting into Heaven (if Heaven exists at all) than I do. And part of being Christian means believing what the Bible says to be true.

And I think anybody who sincerely believes that is a horrible person, and I’m better than you.

That’s why I’m so smug.

Godless Medley

This is a medley of three songs I’ve written. The first, called “Little Atheist Me,” makes its debut in the medley. The second and third, titled “Songs About Jesus” and “The Fantastic Theory,” were previously recorded and released on my YouTube channel. Altogether, the video is just under ten minutes long. Two, if not all three, songs contain swear words. So put on those headphones.

“Little Atheist Me” is about nothing more than me and my worldview, which just happens to not include any gods. The song describes those things I do believe in, such as “love and hope and family,” as well as those things I’m afraid of, like “falling to my death or being stung by bees.” As the song says in the chorus, I’ve got “no time for Jesus.” I wrote this as a way to tell the religious community that atheists do have plenty of things they believe in or are afraid of; it’s just that none of those things include superstition.

“Songs About Jesus” is really just one song, and it’s only about Jesus insofar as the Christian belief that “Jesus is God” goes. So I suppose, really, it should have been called “A Song About God.” But there you have it. The song is also how a lot of Christians don’t seem very Christ-like, so I guess that’s the part about Jesus.

“The Fantastic Theory” is about Intelligent Design versus evolution, and the battle to censor science and/or teach ID in public schools. Mostly I cover evolution and sing about how life has no apparent design; and if it was created, it wasn’t done so very intelligently.

A few notes unrelated to the song(s)…

  • No, I will not take off that hat. I really like that hat.
  • No, I will not trim my guitar strings. No reason; I just can’t be bothered.
  • The silicone band on my right wrist is zebra-print and I got it at the Dallas Zoo. Incidentally, the Dallas Zoo is where my wife and I had our wedding ceremony.
  • The guitar is a Yamaha. I received it as a gift for my seventeenth birthday.
  • I bought my shirt through RichardDawkins.net

Also on my YouTube channel, you’ll find a few additional songs:

  • “Mary,” which is more or less about marijuana.
  • “Imagine,” which is a cover of John Lennon’s famous song.
  • “Rat-Zinger,” which is about the Catholic Pope and child-molesting priests.
  • “Fabulous,” which is about equal rights, especially for the LGBT community.

Ass-u-me

So the company I work for is doing some charity work and we’re trying to spread the word about it. That’s fine, right? Right. Typically when we do something like this, we’ll have a little pow-wow at work and when the charity event comes up, whoever’s leading the meeting will say something like “Give these flyers to your neighbors, your friends, ask your spouse/loved one to take some to work with them, or take a stack to church.” That’s totally fine, too. I can do three of those four things and a lot of other people can do the fourth. Great. Spread the word, raise money, and we’re all happier people.

But this morning that wasn’t the line they used. The person leading the meeting said, and I quote, “All of you go to church, right?” That struck me as being kind of odd. They corrected themselves, saying, “At least most of you?” But the damage had been done. Being that I (and at least one other atheist that I know of) were in attendance, the obvious answer to the original question was a big fat no. Statistically speaking, the majority of people attending the meeting probably adhered to one religion or another, and it would probably be safe to say that most were Christian. But if we’re still speaking statistically, most of the people in attendance probably don’t attend church regularly (source from four years ago).

Isn’t that strange? The speaker just made a pretty huge (and most likely inaccurate) assumption, and it just seemed a little biased to me. The speaker might as well have said “Most of you believe in god, right?” which would have been more likely, but just as inappropriate. Statistically, I’d bet that most of us in attendance were heterosexual and it was obvious that most of us were caucasian, but I think everybody would agree that to say “You guys are all straight, right?” would be incredibly inappropriate and may even result in the loss of a job.

Maybe it’s just me, but I was at least a little offended by the assumption that was made. No, I won’t take it to Human Resources because I happen to be friends with the person who said it and would hate for them to get in trouble (even though that would be unlikely), especially as the result of what was possibly just a faux pas. I maintain, however, that it would have been far more appropriate to have said something like “If you go to church, take some of these with you.”

Is my being offended just an overreaction? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not seething over this and if I weren’t taking the time to make a post about it I’d probably have forgotten about the whole thing by tomorrow anyway, but the whole situation just made me go “Hm, that was odd.”

Suburban Atheist

Did you know that atheists really just hate god? That we only claim to disbelieve in god because of some terrible tragedy that happened early in our lives? Here, in a retelling of the very first post I ever wrote for this blog, is the chilling tale of how I went from atheist, to Catholic, and back to atheist.

It all starts with me being born on the dirty floor of a scary, shadowy motel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a frigid night in November*. Fresh out of the womb I was broken in a couple places, crying, splotchy, and covered in a particular goo I hope to never be covered in again. More importantly, I was atheist.

That’s right, folks. I started my life crying, gooey, and atheist. Scared and alone, I couldn’t even imagine a god existing. Everything around me was all there was. This is only the beginning of my horrible tale, however. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it gets even worse!

Though I grew slightly larger, I remained atheist for the first couple years of my life. It got to the point, though, where as a child I would believe anything my parents told me. There was a Santa Claus. There was an Easter Bunny. There was a god who made everything and would never let bad things happen and would always take care of me. But wait, wouldn’t Mommy and Daddy always take care of me? Who cares? This god fella sounds amazing! Even more powerful and mystical than those birthday party clowns who made amazing balloon animals and pulled rabbits out of hats!

By now we had moved to Texas. I grew up in Suburbia. When I wasn’t going to church on Sunday or school in the morning, I was running around outside with my friends, on lawns that were always green and freshly-mowed, with water pistols and water balloons that were so full we had to be careful not to burst them on ourselves before we could soak each other. I was climbing trees, scraping knees, teasing bees, and refusing to eat my peas. We had several pets including dogs, fish, and iguanas. I was always occupied. I praised god and Jesus once a week, and then spent the rest of the week, well, being a kid in Suburbia.

Church life was about what I imagine it would be like for most kids. We went to St. Jude Catholic church on Sundays, I had a youth group afterwards, and that was it. I can’t even say whether I ever paid attention to a single sermon during Mass. I was a kid, after all. I brought coloring books and plastic dinosaurs to church. I knelt when my parents knelt, opened the books and pretended to sing when my parents sang. Sometimes I actually sang, which was fun because I liked the songs. I had no idea what they were about, but I liked them.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what the Bible was about. I just knew what my parents told me: Jesus was this guy who was the son of god but he was also god, and that’s okay because I’m a kid and I’ll believe whatever my parents say, and Jesus did good things and then he was crucified, but that was also okay because he did it so we could all go to Heaven, which was a really great place where everybody went when they died, so I guess we never really died, which was good because this meant I never had to be scared about dying.

And things stayed this way for a while.

I went to school and was placed into the “Gifted & Talented” program simply because I was good at math, and I met the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life, Mrs. Judith Barnes. Mrs. Barnes encouraged us to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems. She was my GT teacher for six years, so for six years I received more and more encouragement to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems.

I read about things that fascinated me: dinosaurs, rocks, the solar system, animals, bugs, different countries and cultures. And then I did what my parents probably didn’t expect me to do: I put down my illustrated children’s version of the Bible and picked up an actual grown-up Bible.

And I read it.

Not the whole thing, mind you. I was, after all, still a kid. I was probably around ten years old. But I read enough of it to stop, think to myself How would Mrs. Barnes want me to read this?, and suddenly realize that it couldn’t all possibly be true. Then I realized that the story of Jesus was the only fantastic story I’d hung on to that my parents had told me, having already let go of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I found myself wondering why?

Why was I still hanging on to this Jesus fellow? Santa and the Easter Bunny had both been used to teach me valuable lessons about being good and having fun – why couldn’t Jesus have also just been a device to teach me to stay true to myself, despite how others might treat me, and to strive to see goodness in all things?

So sometime probably in my early teens, I stopped worrying about god and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. For a while, I hung onto the notion of a god that snapped his invisible fingers, made the universe pop into existence, and then just sort of minded his own business after that and didn’t interfere with anything, but I finally let go of that belief too, later on in my teens. And by the time I finished high school I was full-blown atheist.

All the while I was just a middle-class kid in Suburbia with two loving, never-divorced parents, an older brother who I fought with now and then about nothing in particular, a big backyard with a swingset (replaced later on by a pool with a diving board), and a bunch of dogs.

And that’s the story of how one simple childhood tragedy can cause any person to turn their back on god forever.

*Slight exaggeration. I was actually born in a clean, well-lit hospital room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a November morning, which I imagine was still probably pretty cold.

Silly Theist Logic

Devoted Atheist Dave reader “Andrea” added a decent comment on my post from 2 April, Prayer is Futile, but then followed up with the inane I don’t believe you’re an atheist. You wouldn’t be spending this much time writing about a Person whom you claim you don’t believe in.

By this incredibly well-thought out religious logic, we can conclude that:
J. R. R. Tolkien believes Middle Earth and hobbits exist.
J. K. Rowling believes Hogwarts and the wizarding world are real.
George Lucas believes wookiees and Jar Jar Binks exist.
– Jim Davis thinks bright orange talking cats who love lasagna exist.
– Walt Disney really believed in talking mice, dogs, and ducks.

And so on, and so forth.

The point here is that a lot of people write or talk about things they don’t believe exist. This is entertainment, baby. It’s called “make believe.” You, as a theist, should know about making believe all too well. It’s all right, I had imaginary friends when I was a kid, too. I even believed in Santa. But I grew out of all of them. That’s another one, by the way: parents, especially around Christmas, seem to talk about Santa Claus an awful lot. Does that mean they believe he exists?

As far as what I would or wouldn’t be doing as an atheist, who are you to say? The only thing you know I will not be doing, based on my being atheist, is believing any gods exist. That is the only thing my atheism tells you about me.

I didn’t think I’d have to point this out, since my audience is made up primarily of atheists, nonbelievers, agnostics, and rational thinkers (surprise, I’m not actually trying to [de]convert anyone – I have a feeling it’d take more than a blog to do that). But let’s see if this helps you understand:

Sometimes when I make a post specifically talking about the Christian god and pointing out its logical inconsistencies and flaws I will assume, just for the sake of argument, that said god actually exists. That’s a literary device. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, if your god exists as your Bible describes it, then we know these things about it…” That doesn’t mean I believe it exists. For the sake of simplifying things I omit the disclaimer at the end of every post, but I’ll provide one for you now.

Disclaimer: I do not believe in a god or gods, nor have I as long as this blog has been active. If I ever come across as though I do believe in a god or gods, just remind yourself that I do not believe in a god or gods.

Theistic evolution (and other things)

The following is [nearly] copied directly from a conversation I had on Facebook with a friend, Matt. At one point about halfway through the conversation another friend, Chuck, joined in for a short while. The conversation started with a quote by a hypocritical “Christian” and then moved quickly to evolution, the (in)errancy of the Bible, historical Jesus, and finally ended with a nice little “agree to disagree” moment. The whole thing began when I posted a quote:

“I have a compelling reason to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God… abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

-Carl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

Matt
Haven’t read much on theistic evolutionism. I don’t think its possible.

Dave
Considering the Christian god is “perfect,” why couldn’t he have created life, which then evolved? Through god, anything is possible (they say).

Don’t forget that evolution (and its theory) says nothing about the origin of life. Only about how life adapted and evolved after it originated. The origins of life are theorized in abiogenesis.

Matt
Well that isn’t the account in genesis. God created everything fully mature. New with the appearance of age. Jesus did the same when he turned water into wine. I am curious though… I can accept micro evolution. What are your thoughts on separating micro and macro evolution?

Dave
I think evolution is evolution. Micro- and macro- just measure it on different scales. Here’s a pretty neat explanation of how it works:

Image via thinkatheist.com

Matt
That’s what I anticipated. However I think you can separate the two. We see changes in frogs and what not. But the single cell to man theory I have issues with. New information in the genome through random unguided chance mutations just doesn’t seem like a plausible sound enough theory for the origin of intelligent life.

Dave
Given billions of years, why not? Remember a species may undergo many (like, millions) of random mutations that don’t work in favor of its survival, and those afflicted with such mutations either die out or remain “neutral” (the mutation is neither beneficial nor detrimental to its survival). But one in a million random mutations might be beneficial to the point where that species is now more able to procreate and survive.

So the species passes that mutation on to its offspring, who then procreate and thrive. A million mutations later, and another generation is that much more capable of survival. One won’t be able to pinpoint the exact generation in which speciation occurs, but it gets to the point where generation X+n is no longer able to breed with generation X.

The original species may still even exist – those which did not mutate beneficially may still be thriving in their own particular niche just fine.

An analogy:
Give a monkey a computer with a keyboard and word processor, then let it bang away. What are the odds it will randomly type out Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its entirety? Pretty slim.

But reprogram the processor so that every time the monkey randomly hits a letter in its proper place, the letter is saved in its position. Eventually, the monkey WILL have “randomly” banged out Hamlet in the word processor.

Matt
I can appreciate the theory. It does however boil down to a few pre-suppositions. Is the universe billions of years old? Were these primordial conditions exactly right to produce by chance those amino acids then so on and so forth? I mean it does make sense given bookoos of time and some very particular conditions, but it doesn’t account for some of the immensely complex organisms we see today. Like the bombardier beetle, the circulatory system of giraffes. Butterflies metamorphosis over weeks not years. The chances of life producing from nothing is not one in some very very large number, its zero.

The question is; who re-programmed [the hypothetical word processor]?

Dave
Again, evolution does not account for the origin of life, nor does it attempt to – that’s abiogenesis.

As to “who” programmed it, that goes back to the theory of natural selection. A species will retain a mutation (random pounding of keys) that is beneficial (landing in the right position) to its survival.

Funny you mentioned giraffes, though, since they have within them my favorite evolutionary “mistake.” Research their laryngeal nerve.

Matt
I remember. You had mentioned it previously.

Are you familiar with the 747 gambit? Also what are your thoughts on the anthropic principle?

Dave
Regarding the “Ultimate Boeing 747” I’ll remind you that complexity won’t arise out of nothing, or suddenly, but rather in tiny parts at a time and over long periods of time.

Regarding the anthropic principle, I’ll refer you to Douglas Adams‘ “puddle analogy.”

…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

Chuck
Keep in mind when were talking about the origin of life describing it in years doesn’t do justice. Single cell organisms can reproduce asexually, which means one organism could reproduce many many times in a year plus how many times it’s offspring reproduce. So yeah at the birthrate of mammals evolution happens slow. But with more primitive life forms a change could happen more rapidly. More keys mashed per year if you will.

Matt
So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?

Also, if I may, returning to the original topic of why couldn’t God use evolution in the creation process, its seems to me that this ideology compromises Biblical inerrancy. This also suggests that God requires long periods of time to accomplish his creative process. If that were the case then I think the Genesis account would reflect that. Some might argue that the Hebraic lexicon only offers vague idioms for durations of time. While the Hebrew word for “day” could mean any period of time, it is important to know that this is true unless it is annotated by a number. So when we observe the creation account in Genesis, we must accept it as a literal six day creation week. Most importantly, coming from the Christian perspective, Jesus tells us that we must accept the teachings of Moses since it is the Word and Jesus is the Word. Anyways, that’s why one cannot be a Christian and subscribe to the ideologies of metaphysical naturalism.

Dave
You said: “So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?”

Yes. Check out the Lenski E. coli long-term evolution experiment.

Chuck
It may not be single celled organisims but… there was a type or scale or fungus that infects a widely grown crop that developed immunity to to the main pesticide used to treat it within a human lifetime. It happend like ten years ago so I dont remember the specifics…

Dave
Re: inerrant Bible vs. evolution

Knowing that I’m atheist and consider the whole book a bunch of baloney, it may be a little more difficult to take what I’m about to say seriously, but I’m going to give this whole “apologetic” thing a shot. Here goes.

Is it not possible to see see the Bible as just a book? Perhaps it is inspired by the word of god. Maybe he even had a hand in writing some parts of it. But perhaps some of it really was just a recollection of stories that had been passed down verbally through many generations.

Instead of reading Lev. 11:20 as an outright error (I, personally, see it as one) try and see it as a misinterpretation. Knowing how geology works, we can essentially disprove a worldwide flood. So what if the flood story was just an exaggeration to try and get the point across that god means business?

With misinterpretations and exaggerations in mind, try to read Genesis in a similar light. Sure, maybe god created the world; maybe bugs and water and light and people all came at separate times (and they most certainly did!) but maybe the ordering of the story is just to give you the general idea: god did it, more or less like this.

The Bible was, after all, written by humans; not by superhumans. Perhaps they heard voices that told them what to say, but if everyone were hearing the same voice we would expect the Gospels to agree with each other 100%. Fun fact: they don’t. Perhaps because of misinterpretations and exaggerations.

If the Bible is read with more of an open mind and while considering the fact that stories can be misinterpreted or exaggerated and languages can be mistranslated, it wouldn’t be all that inconceivable to suggest that god could have “guided” the evolution process with his hand. Maybe the beneficial mutations were his idea to begin with.

Matt
Trees bearing fruit after their own kind. Like I said, micro evolutionary processes are evident and as far as I am concerned totally Biblical. Concerning the gospels, In a court of law, if all of the witnesses to a murder all had the exact same story, they would be accused of conspiring and their testimony would be thrown out. Luke accounts for one blind man healed by Jesus while Matthew accounts for two. Luke’s account was concerned with only the one because the man Jesus healed became a disciple. The argument you present lies in the realm of legalism, and Jesus railed against the pharasees for just this reason. Fun fact: the life, death, and even the resurection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact. Even His enemies admit to these things (except the muslims). And as far as mis-translations go, we literally have over 25,000 manuscript documents to validate the accuracy of the New Testament translations.

Dave
The Bible is riddled not with different recounts of the same story, but with outright contradictions. In the court of the law, that wouldn’t fly. In the New Testament specifically, Matthew and Luke give us two different people as Jesus’ paternal grandfather, and say that Jesus was descended from both of David’s sons (Solomon and Nathan). If one of those is true, both cannot be true. A person cannot have two biological fathers.

The Gospels tell us of Jesus sending out his disciples and he gives them specific instructions which included what they can or can not take with them. Are the disciples allowed to bring a staff? Mark says yes. Luke says no. That may be an insignificant detail, but again both cannot be true, therefore the Bible (at the very least, THAT part of the Bible) cannot be taken literally.

I think you and I can both agree that Jesus’ crucifixion was kind of a big deal, and we can probably both agree that the details are somewhat important. Jesus wore a crown of thorns. He was flogged. He carried his cross. He was nailed to the cross. All in all, he was treated pretty badly here. But let’s go back to the part about Jesus carrying the cross. Only one of the Gospels actually say that happened: John. The rest say Simon is the one who carried the cross. It’s commonly accepted that Jesus carried it until they met Simon, but that is nothing but speculation and assumption, as none of the Gospels tell us both men carried the cross. If the Bible is inerrant, there is no room for assumptions. If any of the Gospels are right, I would go with the safe bet of Simon carrying the cross (three against one, after all) but it is therefore logically impossible for John to have been correct.

I can list more contradictions for you if you’d like, since the Bible is teeming with them, but for now and for this discussion I think I’ve made my point well enough. So I move on.

You said “the life, death, and even the resurrection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact.” This is simply not true, and it’s unfair for you to use it in this debate. No proof whatsoever exists of an historical Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Not one historian (outside the Bible, which only Christians count as “proof”) from Jesus’ time ever wrote about him. Why is that? Miracles would have been a big deal, I imagine. It wasn’t until 70 years after Jesus had died that the first Gospel was written. Some people point to Josephus as an historian who wrote about Jesus, but it’s been proven that Josephus’ writings which pertained to Jesus were forgeries.

As even an atheist like I will admit, a lack of evidence of existence is not evidence for nonexistence, but you simply cannot state something is a fact when no evidence supporting it exists. The only “evidence” you could possibly use is the Bible, but even now we’re debating over its validity. To use it as proof is to assume we both accept it as valid.

For the record, the Muslim Qur’an tells us Jesus (“the messiah”) was born of a virgin, performed miracles, ascended into Heaven in bodily form (but not that he was crucified), and will return to earth on Judgment Day.

Matt
Look, I do want to be fair. Unfortunately, for the literary critic of the New Testament, there are several extrabiblical references and authorities to Jesus. To name a few secular sources: Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger. Not to mention Jewish references such as the Babylonian Talmud. As Josh McDowell puts it “Similar to the secular references, the ones found in ancient Jewish sources are unfriendly toward Christianity’s founder, followers and beliefs. For this reason their attestation to events surrounding Jesus’ life are valuable testimony to the historicity of these events.” If you would like to or are at all interested in furthering your understanding of apologetics, the I would refer you first to Josh McDowell’s book “The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” As far as the Qur’an is concerned, I have my reasons for rejecting It as Divinely inspired and that should be reserved for another discussion.

Dave
Pliny the Younger: his “references” were all Christians themselves, so any accounts are biased. He was born in 62 CE anyway, so his “word” is nothing but hearsay, being he wasn’t even born ’til after Jesus would have died.

Tacitus: Born after Pliny the Younger. Again, not an eyewitness account. He didn’t even cite his sources.

Suetonius: Born after Tacitus. Only ever mentions the common name “Chrestus” and never refers to an earthly Jesus.

Talmud: Never actually mentions Jesus. Refers to “Yeshu,” who was a disciple of Jehoshua Ben-Perachia, who existed more than a century before Jesus (or it refers to Yeshu ben Pandera, who was a teacher in the 2nd century).

Thallus: Doesn’t mention Jesus – only the darkening of the sky at the time of his alleged crucifixion. The validity of his writings is called into question, however, when one considers that neither Pliny the Elder nor Seneca (easily the two most contemporary scientists at the time) mentioned the “eclipse.” The two scientists were known for researching and writing about all the known geological and astrological phenomena.

There are no eye-witness accounts of Jesus. None. Anything said about him after the fact is hearsay.

For the record, I fully understand that none of this disproves an historical Jesus. That isn’t what I’m trying to do. God and Jesus cannot be proven to exist or not exist (actually, they could be proven to exist but so far nobody’s managed to do it). An inerrant or errant Bible, however, is very easy to prove. A worldwide flood 6,000 years ago, for example, would have left very specific geological evidence, yet none exists. In this case the nonexistence of evidence works as evidence for nonexistence.

So, back to the very original point (actually, the original post was just a quote I found amusing in its hypocrisy), accepting the Bible as errant does not necessarily make one unChristian, but it opens the door for acceptance of reality.

The reality is this: evolution has occurred on a massive scale and continues to occur. The earth is billions of years old. God may or may not still exist and have had something to do with the aforementioned known facts.

Matt
Well, it certainly delights me to see that you at least admit to the possibility of God’s existence. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that makes you an agnostic. Let me assure you sir, God is certainly real and you can know and interact with Him right now. That is the most powerfull evidence available. Nonetheless it is not my place to make God known to you, its His. Religion is not all its cracked up to be.

Dave
Technically, I’m agnostic. Technically, I’m also atheist. Gnosticism/Agnosticism has to do with knowing. Theism/Atheism has to do with believing.

I don’t know whether there’s a god or not (agnostic) but I don’t believe there is (atheist).

Sources I used:
Did Jesus exist? (nobeliefs.com)
Secular References to Jesus: Thallus
(tektonics.org)
Thallus: an Analysis (infidels.org)